Though “Citizen Kane” has widely influenced American films since its release in 1941, one of the picture’s subtler devices is just starting to catch on: no opening credits. While filmmakers agree that opening credits can distract an audience, guild contracts and Hollywood convention initially stalled any change on this small, sticky issue. Now such A-list directors as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood are creating a trend.
Spielberg placed key credits at the end of his acclaimed epic “Schindler’s List” and the blockbuster “Jurassic Park” because he didn’t want to muddle the first scenes. Says Jerry Molen, who co-produced both films, “It’s becoming a common creative choice. It’s a way for filmmakers to start the work very simply.”
Similarly, Joel Silver, co-producer of the “Lethal Weapon” franchise, said they decided to open “Lethal Weapon 2” with an action scene in order to grab the audience immediately — opening credits would have slackened the pace, so they moved the key credits to the end. A Columbia source said the makers of “Last Action Hero” opted for only end credits since the film-within-the-film was rolling opening credits in the beginning, and might have confused the audience.
But each of these producers had to obtain a waiver from the Directors Guild general contract, which stipulates that the director’s card must appear at the beginning of the film. The Writers Guild, because of the increasing number of applications, wrote a clause into its general contract in 1988 allowing for key credits to be placed at the end of a movie.
In the past, however, guild exceptions have been rare. Director Peter Bogdanovich chose to have only end credits for “The Last Picture Show” in 1971 because he believed it would be more meaningful for the audience to see the names after the performances. Bogdanovich fought with the DGA because he wanted the actors’ credits to roll before his own. “After much struggle I was able to have the credits at the end and not have my card first. But they resisted. And I was the director.”
George Lucas left the DGA in 1981 when the guild attempted to fine him $ 250, 000 for putting director Irvin Kershner’s card at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Lucas and Kershner had applied for a waiver, explaining that creatively the credits only worked at the end. But the guild refused to grant a waiver because the Lucasfilm title appeared at the front, before the director’s card. The DGA will allow a corporate title to precede the director’s credit, but said this did not apply to Lucas’ private company. Although it could not fine Lucasfilm because it was not a signatory, it instead fined Kershner $ 25,000, which Lucas paid. He then ankled the guild.
Although applying for a waiver is now less contentious, rolling opening credits is a hard tradition to break. Director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty initially decided to omit all opening credits for “The Exorcist” in 1971, but backpedaled at the last minute.
“Blatty and I had planned to have no opening credits for ‘The Exorcist,’ but then he chickened out and insisted that he have his name at the top. So we both did. I thought not having opening credits would get the audience in the film faster. Once people sit in the theater, they expect something to happen. There’s no immediacy if it begins with credits.”
‘Blue Chip’ coda
Friedkin’s upcoming film, “Blue Chip,” will roll the key credits during a brief coda after the first scene, because he wants to grab the audience immediately. “There were just too many credits to put them all at the end of the film, but we still want to pull the audience in at the beginning, so we made this compromise,” Friedkin said.
Clint Eastwood is perhaps the most definitive on the new trend. His recent projects “Unforgiven” and “A Perfect World” have only end credits because Eastwood wants the opening scene to be clean. Eastwood also convinced the makers of “In the Line of Fire” to omit front credits.
David Valdes, who executive produced “In the Line of Fire” and “Unforgiven” and co-produced “A Perfect World,” says, “Clint feels very strongly that credits have reached an absurd extreme. There are so many at the beginning of a film that it prevents the storytelling. We think it’s cleaner without them. We’ve done it religiously for the last four or five pictures.” And, in classic Eastwood fashion, Clint eschews Hollywood vanity: “He doesn’t want to see his name up there fifteen times.”
But some hardliners, worried that audiences will miss end credits, still mount resistance. A stark message at the front of recent screenings at Samuel Goldwyn Theater admonishes the audience not to leave during credits.